Breaking Down the 2015 Design Trends


We love talking about design trends and what’s coming next. Everything you see around you created by humans involves some type of design planning for it to be created. The world of design as it applies to the web and printing, however, moves faster than any other type of design.

We put out the best infographic we’ve designed so far – Design Trends 2015. Here we’re going to break it down in a bit more detail our research and how we decided on these trends.


1. Huge and Beautiful Images are Everywhere

Who isn’t sick of cheesey stock photos with a lady on a headset staring at you and awkwardly smiling. In the past, photo options for designs were limited to a few avenues: taking your own photos, purchasing lame stock photos, or stealing something from Google. Thankfully in the last year we’ve seen a huge community of quality free stock photo sites spring up.


Huge and beautiful images are the first design trend for 2015


In our post, 17 Beautiful Sites with Amazing Free Stock Photos, we highlight some of the best sources of these photos. What makes this new wave of sites different is that many of them completely open up their photography to the masses completely free for commercial use. This photography is more natural and unique than much of what traditional stock photo sites can offer.

So because of this new availability of professional-photographer quality photos available free, the quality of images has increased dramatically in 2014. With more of these individual sites popping up, we expect this trend to increase even more throughout 2015.


2. Semi-Flat and Material Design Dominates

Microsoft with Metro, then Apple with iOS 7 brought flat design to the limelight and added their stamp of approval. This design philosophy definitely had its critics, but overall was ushered into the designer lexicon with applause. The flat design movement eschewed the idea of skeuomorphism and its idea of trying to recreate real world objects onto a digital screen.

There were some detractors of purely flat design, however, that felt completely dismissing non-flat elements like shadows and depth meant throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Google introduced its Material Design in 2014, which is their version of a modified flat design. Personally, I love Material Design compared to pure flat design or on the other end skeuomorphic designs. I think it perfectly balances the UX philosophies of both camps, while focusing on the best user interaction principles of making the goals of each interaction obvious and seamless.


semi-flat design trends for 2015 image


How do we know that the interest in the semi-flat design area is actually increasing into 2015? Well don’t take our word for it.

In 2013 “flat design” rapidly increased in search popularity as the term was introduced and became a household name in the design world. But the term leveled off starting mid-2013 to January 2015:


Graph showing the popularity of flat design increase in 2013.


Then “Material design”, a term coined by Google to represent their version of semi-flat design entered the picture. It skyrocketed from nowhere to continuing its popularity at the beginning of 2015:


Graph showing Material design overtaking flat design.


Check for yourself on Google Trends to see the battle continue.


3. Everyone wants Rich Content Experiences

While internet connection speeds have increased and competition at media outlets for audience eyeballs has heated up, building more interactive news articles has become a strong focus. What first put the idea of rich content experiences on the map was arguably Snow Fall from the New York Times in 2012. These experience have transformed long-form storytelling into completely immersive experiences. These rich experiences include full widescreen background video, specific videos sprinkled throughout the article, photos integrated into the story, and interactive visualizations, among other elements.


rich content experiences image


Snow Fall turned up the heat on other huge media outlets to follow in suit, and many have. This makes the internet better for all of us.


Snow Fall from NY Times.


4. Typography for the Masses

Typography is such an important part of design, both on the web and in printing. In general, however, the web has lagged behind physical prints by a huge margin – in part due to the limitations of web fonts. Until the last few years, web fonts have been sorely lacking, and designer haven’t had many options without paying for expensive fonts.

In his Smashing Magazine article, Taking a Second Look at Free Fonts, Jeremiah Shoaf perfectly sums it up:

“In the past, free fonts typically came from one of two places: amateur designers who created fonts for fun or as a learning experience, and professional type designers who released a single variant of a font family for free as a form of marketing, the idea being that people would come back to purchase the full family once they realized the limited usefulness of a font without multiple weights and italics.”


Better typography is a 2015 design trend.


Thanks to projects like Google Fonts and Font Squirrel, we now have access to better web fonts that can stand toe-to-toe with the most expensive professional fonts. Fonts so good, anyone but the highest level designers couldn’t tell the difference whether it was free or paid.


5. Magical Realism is More than Fiction

Magical realism is a literary style that injects magic and supernatural events into the natural world in works of fiction. Yours truly have adopted this term to apply to what companies like Magic Leap have initiated. If you aren’t familiar with the vision of Magic Leap, check it out right now. They have trademarked: “it’s time to bring magic back into the world”, without explicitly specifying how they will do so. With just a few images and animated videos they’ve burst onto the scene, hinting that their augmented reality technology can bring magical elements to our everyday world by projecting images directly onto the user’s eyes when wearing their special glasses.

Magical realism is a 2015 design trend.


This may be a bold prediction, but we are going out on a limb to project that other leading companies will be inspired by this Google-backed company to push the limits a little more in their own designs.

Picture of birds and pterodactyl from Magic Leap.


We can’t be anything but giddy at the idea of real-life Harry Potter stuff being a part of our world. Let’s hope that it can only be a good thing and we don’t find ourselves living like Joaquin Phoenix in Her.


6. Hand-Drawn Illustrations are Modern

You can’t get any more old school than hand-drawn illustrations. I mean this was cutting-edge technology during Leonardo da Vinci’s time, but 2015? Well in a period of content explosion where images and graphics are everywhere, mostly computer generated or taken in a second on a cell phone, some good old fashion hand-made illustrations stand out.

As technology takes over our lives, there’s a polar opposite craving for authenticity. This is why hipsters and farmers markets are still around. It’s why some people want to make their own kombucha and pickle their own cucumbers. We seek a connection to human-made objects, and this is why hand-made illustrations are powerful.


Hand drawn illustrations are a 2015 design trend.


As shown in the two examples above, two big names on the web A List Apart and Basecamp both feature hand-drawn illustrations prominently on their sites.

A screenshot of the Basecamp home page showing hand drawn illustrations.


The thing about Basecamp using these illustrations that makes it so huge, is that this isn’t an art project for them. They are a profitable, popular Software-as-a-Service company that brings in real revenue depending on how well their website converts. So you know they have put a lot of thought and testing into this idea before just slapping the cartoons on the home page.


7. Background Video Engages

Funny thing is, that when we were sharing this infographic around, one comment that popped up was that some people hate background video. While I do agree you have to be very careful with where you use it and how much it takes over the site, we believe it’s here to stay.

I mean, take a look at a site like Maersk Fleet and try to tell me that it doesn’t ooze coolness. It makes you feel like you’re part of a Jason Bourne film and something cool is about to pop up. Or check out Airbnb and their smaller background video behind the search box. Doesn’t it instantly transport you to one of the homes in a distant place that you can rent through the site? It creates an emotional connection to wanderlust instantly.


Background video is a 2015 design trend.


With 4G-LTE-speed smartphones entering more and more pockets, and Google Fiber pressing all internet service providers to bring faster and faster broadband speeds to home, designers are becoming more comfortable with injecting background video into sites. I don’t want to start seeing it on every site I come across, but where it makes sense it really makes a powerful impact.


8. Cinemagraphs Take Over

Cinemagraphs are not new, but then again neither are GIF animations. Yet for some weird reason, the meme-like GIF animations have popped up everywhere recently to much hilarity. Cinemegraphs are the more elegant cousin of GIF memes that are the surreal combination of a beautiful still photo and animated element.

As they become more popular, we might get used to them as we have with other animations. But right now we think they’re super cool and are finally going to pop in 2015.


Cinemagraphs will be a 2015 design trend.


One of the reasons they probably haven’t exploded online yet is that they’re so damn hard to make. Even the “simple” cinemagraph how-to guides make it very labor intensive. This could be a good thing to keep away low-quality versions.


Cinemagraph titled 1941

Source: 1941 Cinemagraph

If you can pull off a cinemagraph like this, please do.


These Are Our Predictions

These predictions for design trends in 2015 are just our best educated guesses. And they are only eight of the many that are out there. We’d love to be surprised by some totally new things that we’ve never seen before. We’re also extremely excited about the direction design is moving. From corporate giants like Microsoft and Google joining Apple in making design a core part of their DNA to the small business owner that now has access to free professional fonts and stock photos for his printing projects that he never had access to before, we think this is a good thing.

The world is getting more beautiful, and you can be a part of making that happen faster.